British writer Lynn Beisner has something of a strange desire. Namely, she wishes her mother had aborted her, and wants to tell the world about it. What’s a woman with a possible retroactive death wish to do? Apparently, publish her musings on this desire in a widely read UK newspaper (in this case, The Guardian), all under the guise of free advice to the pro-choice community on how best to sell their message!
The result is a bizarre but instructive window into the mind of someone with an unusual viewpoint, albeit one with gaping logical holes. From Beisner’s article (emphasis added):
In the last couple of months, I have read two of these abortion deliverance stories that have been particularly offensive. The first story is one propagated by Rebecca Kiessling, the poster child for the no exceptions in cases of rape or incest. On her website Kiessling says that every time we say abortion should be allowed, at least in the case of rape or incest, we are saying to her: “If I had my way, you’d be dead right now.” She goes on to say, “I absolutely would have been aborted if it had been legal in Michigan when I was an unborn child, and I can tell you that it hurts [when people say that abortion should be legal].”[…]
What makes these stories so infuriating to me is that they are emotional blackmail. As readers or listeners, we are almost forced by these anti-choice versions of A Wonderful Life to say, “Oh, I am so glad you were born.” And then by extension, we are soon forced into saying, “Yes, of course, every blastula of cells should be allowed to develop into a human being.”[…]
Here is why it is so effective: people freak out when you tell an opposing story. I make even my most ardent pro-choice friends and colleagues very uncomfortable when I explain why my mother should have aborted me. Somehow they confuse the well-considered and rational: “The best choice for both my mother and me would have been abortion” with the infamous expression of depression and angst: “I wish I had never been born.” The two are really very different things, and we must draw that distinction clearly.
The narrative that anti-choice crusaders are telling is powerful, moving, and best of all it has a happy ending. It makes the woman who carries to term a hero, and for narrative purposes it hides her maternal failing. We cannot argue against heroic, redemptive, happy-ending fairytales using cold statistics. If we want to keep our reproductive rights, we must be willing to tell our stories, to be willing and able to say, “I love my life, but I wish my mother had aborted me.”
Now, set aside the numerous moral problems you may have with this first set of passages, and consider this: It fails even on its own terms. The author complains that personal anecdotes don’t necessarily work as a guide for policy (true), and that they equal out to emotional blackmail if used in a particular way (also true). However, rather than use this as an excuse to defend the importance of statistics or other, more objective measures, her response is that because this tactic – which she hates – is effective, people on her side need to start doing something similar. In other words, “I hate this and it’s clearly immoral but I think we should do it anyway because it works.” That’s a bit of a confusing message.
But even if you concede her point that these pro-life anecdotes work because they’re emotionally resonant, what does she propose as the pro-choice answer? Apparently, to make an argument that even makes pro-choice people queasy. Why she thinks this would work well against people who are ideologically hostile if it doesn’t work on people who are ideologically friendly is not explained. And this isn’t even dealing with the meat of her argument (again, emphasis added):
An abortion would have absolutely been better for my mother. An abortion would have made it more likely that she would finish high school and get a college education. At college in the late 1960s, it seems likely she would have found feminism or psychology or something that would have helped her overcome her childhood trauma and pick better partners. She would have been better prepared when she had children. If nothing else, getting an abortion would have saved her from plunging into poverty. She likely would have stayed in the same socioeconomic strata as her parents and grandparents who were professors. I wish she had aborted me because I love her and want what is best for her.
Abortion would have been a better option for me. If you believe what reproductive scientists tell us, that I was nothing more than a conglomeration of cells, then there was nothing lost. I could have experienced no consciousness or pain. But even if you discount science and believe I had consciousness and could experience pain at six gestational weeks, I would chose the brief pain or fear of an abortion over the decades of suffering I endured.
More ugly details about her mother’s life and hers follow this section. All that needs to be noted about this section (aside from the rather silly belief that feminism or psychology could have been a panacea for this woman’s mother) is that the second highlighted passage takes it on faith that the amount of pain Ms. Beisner went through growing up relative to the amount of pain she would have experienced being aborted is the relevant measure of whether Beisner’s life is worth living. Remember that, because despite not being true, it points the way to the biggest problem with the article.
So what was the painful experience Ms. Beisner went through? This:
[My mother] abused me, beating me viciously and often. We lived in bone-crushing poverty, and our little family became a magnet for predatory men and organisations. My mother found minimal support in a small church, and became involved with the pastor who was undeniably schizophrenic, narcissistic and sadistic. The abuse I endured was compounded by deprivation. Before the age of 14, I had never been to a sleepover, been allowed to talk to a friend on the phone, eaten in a restaurant, watched a television show, listened to the radio, read a non-Christian book, or even worn a pair of jeans.
Now, if we are to assume that this author believes everyone who had her experience should have been aborted rather than suffer through it, what does this passage mean? That we should assume every child that is beaten, or suffers deprivation, will not have a life worth living because they will go through so much pain? How is this a pro-choice argument, given that the root argument of the pro-choice community is that a woman should have free agency over her body and damn the consequences? Isn’t this kind of blanket support for abortion in cases of potential child abuse just as problematic as a blanket belief that it’s unacceptable all the time, according to a pro-choice metric? And if it is, isn’t this argument more an argument for abortion being morally mandatory than for choice?
Yes, yes, it is. See also this passage near the end:
Actually, in terms of contributions to the world, I am a net loss. Everything that I have done – including parenting, teaching, researching, and being a loving partner – could have been done as well, if not better by other people. Any positive contributions that I have made are completely offset by what it has cost society to help me overcome the disadvantages and injuries of my childhood to become a functional and contributing member of society.
One doesn’t need to analyze Ms. Beisner’s logically impossible concluding passages for the problem with this article to be obvious – namely, it’s just as anti-choice as the people Ms. Beisner disdains, but in the opposite direction. It is just as wedded to the deterministic pessimism of its position as the anecdote-obsessed people she despises are wedded to the deterministic optimism of theirs. It’s no wonder this article frightens Ms. Beisner’s pro-choice friends. From a moral standpoint, it’s not pro-choice. Only pro-death. And the beliefs of certain radical feminists notwithstanding, that is not a viable position to argue.